|Should I use electronics in my
It would not be unreasonable to sit back and look at
contemporary musicians of forty years ago with some envy. Not because of
the music they played or the fashion of the day but because life as a
musician seemed to be a lot more transparent back then, if not a good
deal easier and more relaxed in some respects.
When I started drumming, if someone asked for a bit of electronics you
would pop a Dr rhythm drum box in your bag and be done with it. Now it
is a whole different story, samplers, triggers, pads, laptops you name
it, not to mention drum programming and software editing applications.
All this on top of lugging your drum set around. It does not end with
gear. Musical styles and genres of playing are whizzing by faster than
you can roll round the toms. It is highly likely that the rhythms you
learn when you start playing won’t be in vogue by the time you have
become competent. The question remains, ‘is all this rapid change and
development good or bad? Does it help one to feel more secure as a
musician or feeling desperately inadequate and lagging behind the times?
Many people will be out there asking “Where does it leave me” and “which
way should I turn with it”.
This is a more pertinent question for those who play acoustic
instruments such as drums and percussion. Keyboard players and
guitarists have been taking on technology for substantially longer so we
have a bit of catching up to do. I’m sure the same debate lingered when
the electric guitar came on the scene. Taking new things on board is
always a challenge, whether it is a new style, new kit or integration of
new technology. You have to be positive about it and look to the
benefits and move with the times to give yourself every chance of
succeeding in the long term.
You first have to accept three facts;
1. You will need to carry more gear around and spend longer sound
2. You are embracing something that is changing and developing by the
month so you need to keep abreast of these changes.
3. You will soon get used to it!
Besides the gear you might need to get to grips with, these developments
effect every avenue of music making, from the studio to live. I can’t
remember the last studio session that I did that was not to a click and
it is becoming common in a majority of gigs as well. More and more
performers are using sequences or backing which means you often need to
play to a click on stage.
To make things that little trickier, it is very common that only the
drummer has the click in his headphones/in ear monitors. This makes
keeping the band in time like walking a mad dog with an elastic lead. It
is a whole new challenge that needs to be mastered, especially if some
members of the band, (I won’t say ‘bass player’) want to push the beat a
little more than they should. There you are, pulling one member of the
band back one moment and then pushing another whom is dragging during
their solo. It makes you feel like an overworked shunting train! To cap
it all, even though the tempos are the same every night, it still does
not stop the singers famous after show comment, “wasn’t that track a
little slow tonight!” Well, unless the hard disk was spinning a little
faster, I don’t think so.
This all points to one thing, if you can’t play with a click, you won’t
hold down a gig. The simple remedy is to get a metronome and spend a
lot, lot, lot of time with it. (See my article last month on practice
routines) With a loud instrument like the drum kit you really know when
you are exactly on the beat because you can’t hear it. It is a weird
feeling and it creates the illusion that it has stopped. However, do be
sure the batteries have not demised!
If you are fearfully worried about lugging round your electronic and
your acoustic kits, there are some lightweight options. If you are not
worried about using ‘boxed’ drum sounds then you could get a drum brain
and a few pads. At the barest you could get away with kick and snare
added on to your acoustic kit. This is sometimes a good option because
you get the live top end, the power of the toms and the sonic fidelity
and contemporary feel of the electronics. It can also fit neatly into
your acoustic set up with the snare pad to the left of the snare drum
and the kick pad nestled to the right of the bass pedal on the acoustic
bass drum. Once you get into adding the electronic hi hat pedal, cymbal
and tom pads, you need to really start re designing the whole set up so
you can easily switch from acoustic to electronic. Set ups is a whole
other story which I will go into in a future article.
If ‘boxed’ drum sounds burn your whistle as little as they do mine then
you will need to add a sampler to that kit list and trigger it via midi
from the drum brain, triggered by the pads of course. An S5000 or even
S3500 are really bargain basement prices at the moment. Lots of sampled
acoustic drum sounds are available for you to stuff into the sampler and
sound like Bonham.
There are however some bits of kit emerging at the moment which are
making this even easier and more portable. Notably the Roland SPDS
sampler/drum pad. It has nine pads and two external trigger options and
saves onto Compaq flash so you can really stuff that full of samples.
However, even though you can get up to three hours sampling time, you
can only get 500 files on there. Ridiculous. It means that 500 decent
drum sounds would barely fill twenty minutes! Therefore, get smaller
cards, 125meg or so.
It is also smaller than the spd20. Portable is a work I like!